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OCHA urges Security Council to focus on urgent needs of people of Syria

24 Jul 2023


Matra who was displaced from her village has planted flowers in her temporary home in a site for the displaced in north-west Syria to help her forget her grief and the conflict. Credit: OCHA/Bilal Al-Hammoud

Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria by Mr. Ramesh Rajasingham, Head and representative of OCHA Geneva and Director, Coordination Division on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Martin Griffiths

Thank you, Madam President [Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, H.E. Dame Barbara Woodward],

Let me begin with an urgent and common concern: the continuation of cross-border assistance to north-west Syria.

As has been said so many times in this Chamber, cross-border aid is a matter of life and death for millions of people in north-west Syria.

The future of cross-border assistance should not be a political decision but a humanitarian one.

It was therefore deeply disappointing, as the Secretary-General said, when the Security Council was not able to reach an agreement on extending its authorization of UN cross-border relief operations in Syria.

Madam President,

The United Nations and its partners stand ready to continue providing cross-border life-saving humanitarian assistance through Bab al-Hawa at the scope and scale needed.

We have taken note of the letter from the Government of Syria granting the United Nations permission to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing to deliver humanitarian aid in north-west Syria. We continue to engage on the terms outlined in that letter and the modalities that are fundamental to our principled operations.

Several Council Members have indeed encouraged the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the Government of Syria to undertake bilateral discussions about the modalities for humanitarian operations in north-west Syria.

I will pursue this engagement to ensure we have the working modalities to allow us to fulfil our mandate in a principled manner.

Madam President,

In the meantime, UN personnel, relief supplies and protection assistance continue to enter north-west Syria via the Bab al-Salam and al-Ra’ee border crossings. Since 10 July, 18 trucks and ten cross-border missions have used these two crossings to replenish stocks, monitor programmes, and assess needs on the ground. Our essential operations are, for now, taking place through these two crossings.

In parallel, most of the UN Agencies are currently using the humanitarian aid items that had been strategically prepositioned inside north-west Syria prior to 10 July to ensure continuity of the humanitarian assistance.

As I have already indicated, cross-border operations in north-west Syria have always been, and must continue to be, guided by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. The overriding objective is to ensure safe and timely access to civilians in need at the speed and scale required.

The UN cross-border operation is among the most scrutinized humanitarian operations in the world. And the future of the future of any monitoring mechanism at the border crossings, will need to be explored to guarantee the humanitarian nature of cross-border consignments.

Moreover, once assistance enters Syria, the strong monitoring of aid delivery remains. It is done at three distinct levels and is a critical component of UN cross-border operations.

I am hopeful that the consent granted by the Government of Syria to use the two additional crossings of Bab al-Salam and al-Ra’ee border crossings will be extended before it expires on 13 August. These crossings will remain indispensable for the foreseeable future.

Record levels of needs give even greater urgency to facilitating humanitarian access through all available routes, both cross-border and crossline, in line with the obligation to facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of relief under international humanitarian law.

Madam President,

Some of Syria’s most vulnerable populations live in the north-west of the country. 4.1 out of 4.6 million people who live there need humanitarian assistance to meet their most basic needs. Nearly 80 per cent of these people are women and children.

In order to address these severe levels of vulnerability, we need greater predictability that a three or six-month permission does not provide.

Such a short duration poses serious challenges to our operations, funding, logistics and procurement. And, in all likelihood, it could lead to disruptions in the humanitarian response.

Furthermore, such short timeframes do not provide us with the minimum time needed for effective early recovery programming, including support for livelihoods and the rehabilitation of infrastructure damaged by the earthquakes. We will continue our concerted effort to scale-up early recovery activities throughout Syria.

Madam President,

Echoing Geir [Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria], I am also deeply alarmed by the sharp increase in hostilities in north-west Syria in the past weeks, with airstrikes and shelling resulting in civilian casualties. These hostilities have also left people in fear of more attacks and could fuel further displacement.

Altogether, since the beginning of this year, at least 26 civilians have been killed, including five women and six children, and at least 74 civilians injured, according to monitoring carried out by OHCHR.

As the fighting and hostilities continue, I urge the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to take all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize civilian harm.

Madam President,

Throughout Syria, socio-economic conditions continue to deteriorate.

The rapid depreciation of the currency to a new record low in July, and other forms of economic deterioration, have resulted in significant food and fuel price hikes.

The price of essential food commodities has surged by more than 90 per cent in the course of this year, putting basic food items and other essentials out of the reach of millions of families.

Some 12 million people – more than 50 per cent of the population – are currently food insecure and a further 2.9 million are at risk of sliding into hunger.

Madam President,

Despite these severe vulnerabilities, the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is only 12.4 per cent funded.

I am extremely concerned about the consequences of such acute under-funding,  which means that we will have to prioritize our response and make difficult choices again this year. These will likely compromise life-saving assistance and curtail investments in livelihoods and essential services. They will result in more drop-outs from school, more acute food insecurity, and fewer protection interventions.

To give you an example of what this means in practice: beneficiaries of food assistance are currently receiving only 50 percent of the standard ration size. In addition, assistance to up to 40 percent of them – or 2.5 million people – have been discontinued this month due to funding shortfalls.

One month after the Brussels Conference, it is now critical that the generous pledges announced be converted into early disbursals of funding.

Madam President,

We are now at a moment of inflection; one of change but also continuity.

As the Secretary-General regularly reiterates, in all our discussions, deliberations and decisions, we must keep our collective focus on addressing the urgent needs of the people of Syria.

This includes ensuring the delivery of comprehensive and predictable life-saving humanitarian assistance through the most effective means; advocating for the funding required to do so; and demanding that the parties respect international law and renew meaningful efforts to secure a nationwide ceasefire, a political settlement, and an end to the conflict.

We cannot give up on the people of Syria. The people of Syria are counting on us.

Thank you.